No longer are the days of simply classifying your riding style as either road or mountain. Whether it was birthed on the east coast, west coast or Midwest one thing is for certain, the GRAVEL category is here to stay. Here in coastal Southern California the terrain has long been categorized as too technical for a rigged road bike with thicker tires and some added knobbies. Even with this localized opinion I find myself wanting to join the revolution. The craze across the industry over the past year has been too strong to fight and here I am putting together a kit fit for gravel.
- Showers Pass Cascade Collection Gravel Short
Photo by Showers Pass
I am starting with this short since I want to make it clear that bottoms for this style of riding are in fact real. I doubt that we need to formally introduce Showers Pass but just in case you haven’t looked them up here you go:
Showers Pass out of Portland, Oregon designs technical cycling attire for not only racers but also cycling enthusiasts. Due to their geographic location in the Pacific Northwest the brand tirelessly strives to create gear that can perform at its best in demanding conditions. With their roots in high performance waterproof-breathable outerwear, they have grown to offer a wide range of apparel and unique accessories for anyone who faces the elements – from city dwellers heading to the pub to pro cyclists heading to the top of L’Alpe d’Huez.
The Cascade Collection Gravel Short seamlessly embodies all of the inspiration above and then some. On my first ride I immediately became enamored with the 10” inseam constructed with stretch woven fabric. Just below the waistline you can see the grey stretch fabric that allows for maximum airflow. Since they strategically placed this here I never felt as though I was getting too warm or swampy down low. Wearing a size small usually entails wearing a belt but thankfully Showers Pass integrated an adjustable Velcro cinch on both sides of the short. The gravel community commonly looks for a kit that is more slim fit than the mtb crowd yet less race oriented compared to the road crew. That’s exactly where these shorts land and with a free feeling material that rides just above the knee I felt super protected on the trail.
The short itself is more breathable than most mountain shorts that I own as sweating was minimal even as the day warmed. Given that this state actually received some rain this season I have been riding through a few more puddles than predicted. You know that California is experiencing an El Nino season when puddles form on the trails. With that said, splashing these shorts was no accident as I needed to see how they would react. Even with enough material to comfort the technical trail enthusiast I still watched the gravel short dry like a thin pair of trunks. If you need to further increase air flow I found two zippered powered vents on the thigh regions that also speed up the drying process.
Overall the aesthetic appearance of the gravel short truly embodies a gravel cyclist while also serving the mountain community if need be. These shorts simply mad me feel in tune with my riding and provided a rugged freedom that is rarely attained.
2. Cadence Collection Skyline Shorts
If you were overwhelmed by the technical features explained above but are still interested in a gravel ready short then please read on. Los Angeles based Cadence Collection already designs and manufactures street wear and road kits with superb quality. I personally wear their denim daily as they fit my long and skinny legs better than any other denim I own. To that very same point I look for the same qualities in shorts that can handle daily use as well as whatever riding I throw at them.
The Skyline short doesn’t rely on any vents for airflow nor do they use a Velcro cinch system to keep things snug. Instead they use a nylon spandex mix across the entire garment to provide an even and slim fit no matter what waist size you wear. Again, since these shorts can be used in the dirt when called upon they offer water resistance and can dry relatively quickly. The tapered fit was a pleasant surprise that prevented the fabric from bunching while on the saddle and helped the short remain close to my thigh.
As you can read from my experience, the two shorts in comparison are both great for the gravel cyclist or commuter yet both appeal to different personalities. Although Portland and LA have a great deal in common they have even more differences. The Northwest rider definitely cares about the look but places even more emphasis on the technical capabilities. On the other hand the LA based cyclist focuses on the style and curb appeal with just enough attention span left over for a few tech features. Often this rider must drive to a local trail or ride through more crowded public areas. Although I am supporting yet another stereotype I can’t seem to disprove it either.
This shorts subtle yet capable demeanor is attributed to the designer’s detail in the leg area. Lets be honest, when you are in more public areas you want to look good and act like you at least understand the current trends. To accommodate my boyish waist I wear a size 30 that is met with an 8” inseam and 16.5” tapered length that ends about an inch or so above the knee. As I mentioned prior, these shorts truly compliment the long and skinny qualities better than most other shorts. Even as the blood flows during a ride they never really feel tight but rather comfortably snug.
With the Cadence Collection Skyline Short I have finally found riding shorts with immense style points that can also be worn as my daily attire. This is yet another quality that aligns well with the gravel scene and continues to make it so appealing to newcomers.
3. Showers Pass Bamboo-Merino LS Henley Shirt
When choosing a winning top to include in this gravel kit I had to search for a shirt that was just as dynamic as the category of riding itself. With that said it also had to be a piece that was so comfortable during testing that it could allow me as the rider to be more comfortable then ever before. Riding a road bike in the dirt is a unique experience to say the least. Unlike a mountain bike that allows for more forgiveness you really need to have your mind in focus with the more narrow tires and thinner frame. To simply put it, having overly comfortable gear is one factor that can make a large difference in how your ride turns out.
The Bamboo-Merino LS Henley Shirt by Showers Pass not only rose to the occasion but has also made it into my weekly wardrobe. As I mentioned before, Showers Pass builds useful technical features into all of their designs and polished them with tasteful style. As the name hints this shirt combines the super powers of bamboo fibers with merino wool. As soon as this shirt was slipped on I understood just how soft and smooth bamboo can be when integrated into a garment. The soft yet structured feel is consistent throughout the entire shirt retains elastic qualities similar to a jersey. With everything else aside the next to skin feel is what won us over while riding this long sleeve shirt.
Showers Pass further provided a capable piece but knitting merino wool to the bamboo to form a warm yet breathable exterior. I rode this piece in about 50-degree weather and was comfortable from beginning to end. Since the airflow is quiet noticeable it would also be appropriate to wear a breaker as you heat up or if the weather is simply too cold for the shirt itself. Once my body heat kicked in the wool went to work and insulted just enough to keep me focused on the ride. If you are familiar with the benefits of using wool than you also know that the natural fiber also holds antibacterial qualities and reduces odor from perspiration. For the gravel cyclist this truly is a bonus and compliments the urban look of the apparel that we have presented you. It’s one thing to look and feel good on the bike and it’s another to look and feel good in the gear that you wear in public after riding your bike.
The whole point of curating this kit is to highlight the fashion that is finally gaining traction among the cycling world and Showers Pass is aware of this. The Bamboo-Merino LS is completed with a long torso and longer sleeves to allow for a causal look and prevent it from ridding up on a ride. There really is no need to tuck anything in, as it looks super clean with the gravel and cadence shorts that were highlighted before.
4. Smith Overtake Helmet
It only takes one good flat lay to understand how clean the Smith Overtake helmet looks in person. Well let me spill the beans up front and inform you that it looks even better on your head. With so many flashy color options available I naturally gravitated to the most stealth option and chose the matte black helmet to ride. Along with its style and slim feel compared to other helmets on the market the Smith Overtake is dialed in terms of comfort, ventilation and safety. This helmet was truly designed for any conditions and that is why it works so well for the gravel cyclist. With a design that was carried over to its mountain bike counterpart, it is feels just at home on the trail as it does on the road.
With 21 balanced vents, AirEvac ventilation and most important, AEROCORE in-mold construction the latest helmet from Smith keeps your head the coolest part of your body while riding. With so much built in ventilation the Overtake disappeared during my time with it. The AEROCORE internal structure is the foundation of this very lightweight helmet and provides a more effective form of protection than past helmets with enhanced impact absorption. Any cyclist that receives an opportunity to ride a helmet that is exceptionally light and has proven enhanced safety features should not hesitate at the chance.
With rides on the trail as well on the road while wearing the Overtake I can only further support the stellar reviews that this helmet has received. The internal fit (size medium) was snug during all of my rides and extremely comfortable. From the front to back I couldn’t replicate any of the pressure points that I have experienced with other designs. Smith uses a cooling performance lining and light webbing to provide a soft layer of cushion between the impact foam. Sweat is normally the main cause of internal pad breakdown but since this design passes so much air through it we expect our helmet internals to last longer than predicted. The clearance for a wide range of shades is yet another small win for any cyclist who chooses this lid.
Along with the plethora of lightweight safety features and premium quality shell construction the Overtake also stands out with its ergonomic yet simply retention system. From the get go I assumed that this plastic adjustment mechanism was going to be of cheap quality as it’s super light and flexible. It turns out that this flexibility allowed me to fit it to my head perfectly and also prevented it from snapping. The entire unit sits higher up on skull then some other premium helmets that I have ridden and this can be a huge benefit after 60 minutes on the bike. From hours on the trail in wet and dirty conditions to my typical morning commute I never felt a pressure point or area of questionable discomfort. It’s rare that a helmet can adjust to so many skull types but due to the pliable retention system on the Overtake it’s now possible. With extreme comfort and advanced safety features the Smith Overtake takes eases your mind to the point of forgetting that it’s even there. Fortunately, its sleek and aggressive looks grab so much attention that other around you won’t allow you to forget its lurking presence.
5. Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Wool Socks
Waterproof socks are nothing new to the outdoor world. When Showers Pass introduced the new Crosspoint sock they aimed at creating a very dynamic piece of gear that can be worn by nearly every outdoor enthusiast. The funny thing about gravel riding is that your routes can be unpredictable to say the least. With a lethal combo of wet, rocky, muddy and even icy terrain it’s vital to wear the correct kit. For fall and winter riding I have chosen this sock from Showers Pass as a go to source for protection.
Similar to the Henley LS shirt described above this sock integrates layers of technical materials to make the riding experience more enjoyable. Many people feel that they don’t NEED gear such as this until they physically try it for the first time and then understand the importance behind it.
My local riding conditions are more dirt centric rather than wet but most mornings involve messy conditions. With regular dismounts on my gravel rides I use these socks to keep my feet from becoming muddy and damp. With how expensive my shoes are I also use these socks for stream crossings rather than submerging my Italian leather. The outer repellency works great and is super effective with the thicker inner membrane. The Crosspoint relies on a water resistant knit exterior, a waterproof inner membrane and a wool interior. What this all adds up to is a soft antibacterial inner housing, a waterproof barrier for the foot and a sock like exterior that works seamlessly with all footwear. Whether you are in your rhythm on the bike or crossing a creek and don’t want to get your shoes wet these socks can be your savior.
The socks are about twice as thick as normal cycling socks and about three times as heavy due to all of the material. Even if you don’t plan on submerging them you can reply on unbeatable warmth for cold winter conditions. I initially thought that I may become too warm and end up with soggy feet but was pleased with the breathability once riding. The thickness also helped immensely with overall comfort within my shoes. I often feel a tiring pressure point in my arch area, which was dramatically reduced in these socks since they fill any unwanted dead space. As a rugged and highly effective sock I recommend wearing these for winter conditions whether you plan on getting wet or not. They also carryover into activities such as hiking or rafting so there is no need to put them away when the season is over.
6. DZR H2O Waterproof SPD Shoes
We recently reviewed the new DZR H2O SPD shoes in our holiday guide. Visit the review HERE and learn why they make a great addition to the ideal gravel kit.